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Dog Owner Liability Bill Advances In House Of Delegates
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August 14, 2012
A House of Delegates committee passed last night a bill aimed at reversing the effect of a Court of Appeals ruling that holds the owners of pit bulls, but no other breed of dog, strictly responsible for any injury their dogs might cause. But it didn’t come easily. WYPR’s Joel McCord reports.
Joel McCord: The bill, which would hold the owners of all breeds of dogs strictly responsible, or liable, if their pets were to bite someone, sailed through the Senate last week.
But it ran into stiff headwinds in the House, where members of the Judiciary committee grilled Delegate Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat sponsoring the House version. Michael Smigiel, an upper shore Republican, worried that it would lead to a rash of frivolous law suits.
Michael Smigiel: “I think what this amounts to is taking from just pit bulls being inherently dangerous and making any animal inherently dangerous is that next week as soon as we pass this, we’ll have 1-800 DOG BITE cases advertised on the TV.”
McCord: Tiffany Alston, a Prince Georges Democrat, argued that lawmakers had more important things to worry about than pit bulls.
Tiffany Alston: “We have DNA problems, we have second amendment problems, and yet we’re here talking about this pit bull issue with no parade of horrors to follow it, with no knowledge of how many pending cases there are that would even be affected. And so why can’t we just wait and deal with this in January?”
McCord: And Luiz Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, scolded Anderson for not taking into consideration “unintended consequences,’ such at increased insurance rates for dog owners.
Luiz Simmons: “Can you name me one state where you actually know, after the imposition of strict liability how it affected either exclusions in insurance policies or premiums. Just give me one state, where you actually investigated that issue. Don’t tell me about their laws; tell me about the question I’m asking you.”
McCord: Anderson conceded that sponsors of the bill didn’t address all the potential problems, but said they worked on issues they thought lawmakers need to take on immediately.
Curt Anderson: “This is the cleanest and probably the most common denominator of the things that we thought could be done and needed to be done prior to us going back into session in January.”
McCord: The measure stems from a ruling last spring from Maryland’s highest court which held that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” animals, making their owners, and in many cases their owners’ landlords, more vulnerable to law suits. The decision led to a rash of demonstrations around the state house as pit bull owners sought help from lawmakers.
Mindy Fitzgerald, who has a three-year-old pit bull, was at a demonstration last week. The Dundalk woman volunteers at the Baltimore Animal Rescue Care Shelter, which she said is struggling.
Mindy Fitzgerald: “We’ve seen a higher number of intakes of pit bulls, we’ve seen returns because of landlord issues and the shelters are just too full. So the breed as a whole is at risk here.”
McCord: After hours or wrangling, the Judiciary committee adopted a heavily amended bill that would exempt military and police dogs and that applies only to dogs running at large.
In other action, the House Ways and Means committee approved a bill to expand gambling in Maryland with a number of changes from the one that passed the Senate Friday evening. Most notably, this version would allow Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City to keep more money from their casinos. The full House is expected to take up both bills today.
I’m Joel McCord, reporting in Annapolis for 88.1, WYPR.
You can reach the WYPR Newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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